Local U.S. congressional ‘debates’ pick up

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116058844415687.jpg’, ‘Photo Provided’, ‘U.S. Rep. Candidate Dick Auman (D)’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11605884961004.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘U.S. Rep. Candidate Gen John Borling (I)’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11605885273712.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16)’);

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7

As the race for the U.S. 16th District congressional seat enters its last four weeks, the number and format of public forums for the candidates have come into question.

Incumbent Republican Congressman Don Manzullo faces charges by his opponents, Democrat Dick Auman and independent write-in candidate Gen. John Borling, that scheduled appearances are not really debates, and unfairly exclude Borling. Auman also claims the candidates can challenge each other at too few events.

A former teacher, counselor, Marine and mayor of Galena, Auman issued a press release claiming: “To refuse a debate is a disservice to the voters of the 16th District,” said Auman. “They of the 16th District deserve the opportunity to see the candidates respond to their concerns, and to one another. As politicians, we must be able to defend our positions, so that voters can clearly see the differences between the candidates.

“The public can see the Democratic and Republican candidates side by side at upcoming forums in Freeport and Rockford, but neither of these constitutes a debate.” Auman’s release said.

Manzullo’s spokesman, Rich Carter, said Auman had the advantage of campaigning in the district during the entire month of September, while Congress was in session. He also said Manzullo has more appearances with Auman than any of his previous opponents, despite the short timeline to the election.

“The Congressman’s apparently too busy to educate the voters about the choice they face in the upcoming election,” said Auman. “This is a failure of one of his basic responsibilities as a public servant.”

Asked about the structure of public formats, Carter said, “I’m trying to figure that out myself. I think the Congressman and Mr. Auman will be on stage for an hour, and each will have opening remarks and answer questions from the audience.”

Carter cited the sponsors of the event as the League of Women Voters, the Freeport Chamber of Commerce and the Stephenson County Farm Bureau. He was not sure if they would provide or screen any questions. The event is at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 23, Highland Community College.

“Though the candidates will speak and answer screened audience questions, the forum is not a debate, as affirmed by Angela Snyders of the League of Women Voters, who is sponsoring the debates,” asserted a press release from Auman’s campaign.

Snyders could not be reached for comment by press time; however, the League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford Vice President Jane McAfee confirmed: “I don’t think any of these are real debates. It’s a forum where candidates are asked questions and have a chance to respond.”

The League and the American Association of University Women will sponsor another forum for Manzullo and Auman at 6 p.m., Oct. 26, Rock Valley College Atrium.

Write-in candidate Gen. John Borling is not included in these upcoming forums, which both his and Auman’s campaigns protest.

“I brought it up first,” Borling said. “Dick and I thought we should both ring that bell. We think the citizens should hear what all three candidates have to say. I am disappointed the League of Women Voters has rebuffed our efforts to have me participate, and I think this is wrong. I find it strange that the editorial boards across northern Illinois have contacted me, but the voters in this nine-county district will not have all the candidates participating in the League of Women Voters’ process.”

Borling said he declared his candidacy Oct. 1 and will have to file his declaration by Oct. 31. Borling ran an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in the Republican primary in 2004. A POW in Vietnam for six and a half years and a NATO commander and Gulf War coordinator, he now is a business consultant with various business and public service interests.

Borling did participate in a debate with Manzullo and Auman on WNTA-1330 AM with Ken Decoster and Doug McDuff, Oct. 3.

“I think there was a spirited exchange of views, but at the end of the hour I think his (Manzullo’s) estimation was that he didn’t want to do that any more,” Borling said on a capitalfax.blogspot.com “Illinoisize” posting by Cal Skinner “Both parties have let us down in the Congress.”

As to Manzullo’s performance in that debate, Carter said: “I think he did very well. It was an opportunity for him to talk about his achievements and vision, vision for the future. He is contributing to maintaining manufacturing and jobs in Northern Illinois and what’s going on at Eiger Lab and the Rockford Airport.”

Carter also stressed although Manzullo is chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business, which is responsible for all the small businesses in America, his first concern was the needs of businesses and constituents at home.

Auman’s staffer Sara Millhouse was pleased with her candidate’s performance in the WNTA debate: “I think Mr. Auman brought up some really important issues, especially on health care and the war in Iraq. We need to provide health care for all Americans, and we need to bring the troops home. He really emphasized those points. I think both challengers did really well, challenging Manzullo to stand up for his record. I think Manzullo was on defensive.”

Carter also said most gubernatorial and presidential debates require third-party candidates to have a certain percentage of votes from the previous election to allow their participation, with write-in candidates never being included.

Yet, Borling’s inclusion in the upcoming League forums seems uncertain.

“It’s a hard one to work on,” McAfee said. “We were all set up for the forum; and the Voter’s Service Committee of the League has a policy that unless you’re on the ballot, you’re not included. We would love to have him if he were a candidate on the ballot.

“We have a board meeting tomorrow [Oct. 8], and we can take his request. He’s only been out a couple of weeks. I’m not sure when he announced his candidacy, but we already had the forums planned. I’m going to take it to the board meeting and the people on Voter’s Service Committee. I thought I would air the question before the board, but they usually take the recommendation of the Voter’s Service Committee.

At 6 p.m., Oct. 17, at Rockton’s Hononegah High School, the League will hold another candidates’ forum for Illinois legislative candidates for the: 34th District’s senate seat, Sen. Dave Syverson (R) and Dan Lewandowski (D), and for the 68th District’s house seat, Rep. Ron Wait (R) and Greg Tuite (D). County Board candidates will also be present, as will unopposed Rep. Dave Winters (R-69). The event will be co-sponsored by Fairer Funding for Illinois Schools.

From the Oct. 11-17, 2006, issue

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